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Sunday, 2 December 2018

Roger Rabbit- Family Fun At The British Film Institute

We are so lucky in the UK to have amazing venues such as the British Film Institute at London's South Bank who host films and speakers to indulge and enlighten fans of many different genres including fans of Disney and animation. I have seen a number of Disney directors and producers talk about their work, initially through Guardian Masterclasses around London and more recently at family events at the British Film Institute along with my kids. This is the first time that we have been to one of the Funday showings with accompanying activities.

Living in the Midlands means that getting to London for a reasonable time on a Sunday morning can be a challenge. Train travel, however, has become an important part of making these events accessible to us, not just with reasonable journey times but prices too, with a family and friends Railcard the journeys from Rugby to London for my son and I cost a total of £15 return. The tickets to the Roger Rabbit screening and question and answer session at the BFI cost £8 for adults and £4 for children.

We arrived in time for the free Funday activities in the lobby and my son started by making a wooden spoon puppet of a rabbit who he called 'Roger Wabbit!'. We went on to animate it together using the cameras and laptops, using backdrops from the film and moving the puppet through individual frames- this really caught his imagination. There was also a green screen activity and a competition for best cartoon strips and he entered a cartoon strip of a rabbit car getting into mischief! The activities were a lovely start to the day, making the visit more of an event for us.

Designing a comic strip...
Animating Roger Wabbit against the 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' backgrounds.

We then were ready for the screening of the film. It is 30 years this year since 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' first appeared in cinemas yet this film feels pretty timeless in many ways. I love spotting so many characters from all the main animation houses and seeing them interact together is fun and still feels quite unique- where else can you see Mickey Mouse sky diving with Bugs Bunny?

After watching the film we had a Question and Answer session with the animation director, Richard Williams. The Canadian- British director is now in his 80s. Williams talked about the development of the film and how it started with a team of 40 people but ended with 320. The animation was done in London. They shot the live action and then added the animation but they still had to hand draw the animated characters into every frame and using tricky layers.

To ensure that this method was going to work they began by shooting a test scene with an actor in an alleyway and tins and garbage cans attached to strings which were pulled over. They animated the rabbit frame by frame and added special effects. Michael Eisner, head of Disney, took the scene home and ran it on his private cinema for a group of local  kids and asked them if it would make a successful movie- the answer, of course, was a resounding "yes".

Roger Rabbit himself was developed using a mixture of influences including Disney articulation, some Warner Bros and the humour of Tex Avery. Williams explained that he was drawn with Mickey's gloves, Oswald's ears, Goofy's trousers and Beer Rabbits feet. He had Porky Pig's Bow Tie. The tooth was drawn to one side but the battle was on to stop animators from drawing Bugs Bunny's ears and buck teeth.

Williams explained how the rights to all the different characters had to be acquired and more and more characters were being added to the project. Johanna Johnson, the costume designer, insisted that even the animated characters had to be dressed for the 1940s period in which the film was set. Jessica Rabbit was designed to be a mixture of Rita Hayworth, Veronica Lake and Sophia Lauren's mouth. Russell Hall, the main animator worked on refining the character.

The important question was asked- did they ever consider making a second film? Williams was clear on his response that after the film he was "done, got out alive and the two Oscars didn't hurt".

Williams described how at the time Warner Bros were distributing Disney films in Europe for a short period which helped make the 'temporary marriage' between the companies possible. Two cartoon shorts were later made including Rollercoaster Rabbit but unfortunately the companies fought over them. Williams' son worked on Rollercoaster Rabbit and he was in the audience for the Q and A.

Towards the end of the Q and A younger and older audience members asked questions and one boy asked about what had inspired Williams. The animator talked about going to see Snow White when he was 5 and it came out in the cartoon cinema in Toronto where they used to visit. I thought this was touching as Snow White is one of the characters who appears in the final scene of Roger Rabbit.

Williams also spoke about Droopy being a favourite character of his and that the actor who used to do the voice of Droopy was no longer alive when they made Roger Rabbit Williams voiced him himself- he then went on to prove to us that he has the perfect Droopy voice!

When asked if 2d animation still has a place today, Williams was keen to say that it does if enough people are behind it and it makes money, he emphasised that it is a business and advised those going into the industry to learn both 2 and 3d.

Finally Williams was asked if Bob Hoskins had anything to act against when making the film. Williams was clear that, no, his job was to act and he told Hoskins to act against the level of the belt buckle, that's where the rabbit is. He ended with a funny image, however, when he described how Charles Fleischer, who was Roger Rabbit's voice recorded the voice as part of the live action shoot and his wife made him wear a rabbit suit to the filming- fantastic!

This event was not sold out- such a shame for such a great and unique day out. I highly recommend these Funday events and family screenings as a great way to involve kids and adults in developing understanding of the animation process and get a real feel behind the scenes for how animation is created- over the last few years I have seen so many interesting and inspiring animators and learnt so much! Check out the Q and A at the BFI with Rich Moore and Byron Howard here  (Zootopia/Tangled/Wreck It Ralph)and with Coco director, Lee Unkrich and producer, Darla K Anderson here.

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